STUDY 23 - THE TEXT OF THE NEW
For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp.413-423; R.H.Gundry, pp.88-93;
116-135. Further reading: F.F.Bruce, The
Books and the Parchments,
The accuracy of the OT text is due to the meticulous care taken by
rabbinical scholars as they copied the sacred Scriptures. The
fidelity of the text is represented by the Massoretic tradition and is
confirmed by the Dead Sea scrolls. By way of contrast, the
fidelity of the NT text rests on a different basis, that is, on a
massive manuscript support (beginning with over 5000 partial and
complete Greek manuscript portions that were copied by hand).
1. THE NEW TESTAMENT AUTOGRAPHS
Language and materials
F.F.Bruce has written extensively on the biblical canon. He say
of the NT:
"The NT books were written in Greek within the first century after the
death and resurrection of Christ. The original documents were
probably written on papyrus in ink. (These two writing materials
are mentioned in 2 John 12.) The shorter writings (like the Epistle to
Philemon, the second and third Epistles of John and that of Jude) would
require a papyrus sheet of convenient size; the longer works would be
written on papyrus rolls. The longest of all the two parts of Luke's
history and the Gospels of Matthew and John - represent about as much
writing as could conveniently go on to a papyrus roll of normal
length. The letters and book of Revelation, when written, were
sent to the individuals or churches for whom they were intended; Luke's
two volumes were presumably sent to Theophilus; the other Gospels were
probably deposited with the churches of Rome, Antioch and Ephesus." 
Copying the autographs
All the original documents or autographs are lost, but they were copied
before they became worn or illegible. The transcription of
manuscripts (MSS) was always open to errors, due to faulty eyesight,
faulty hearing, or faulty understanding. Errors could be honest,
but they could also be dishonest. Note these examples:
The wrong division of words. Uncial MSS had no word spaces
or punctuation, so copyists had to decide on them.
Omissions due to successive words having the same endings
(homoeoteleuton). Sometimes this may cause the omission of whole lines.
Omission of words or syllables having the same beginnings
The repetition of a word, phrase or line (dittography).
The omission of a syllable or word which should be
Intentional errors could have dogmatic reasons (e.g.,
2. RECOVERY OF THE ORIGINAL TEXT
There are greater resources for reconstructing the text than
document of the classic age (these include Greek MSS, versions,
citations of the church fathers, lectionaries and ostraca).
Textual critics deal with the evidence in four stages:
First, the individual MS is studied and obvious mistakes
Then the MSS are compared in order to arrange them into
common archetype may be logically arrived at, e.g., by community of
error. Four families are discerned by scholars: Alexandrian, Caesarean,
Western and Byzantine.
A provisional text can be constructed by
comparing the archetypes.
Conjectural emendation completes the process.
3. GREEK MANUSCRIPTS
The earliest MSS took the form of papyrus rolls or
c.A.D. 200 they were made from vellum or animal skins (parchment),
which were more durable. The earliest documents were written in
capitals or uncials.
Extant copies of the papyri of the NT in uncials are few and often
The John Rylands' papyrus (p52). The earliest
The Chester Beatty papyri (p45; p46; p47). Date:
The Bodmer papyri (p66; p72; p75). Date: c.A.D. 200.
The uncials These are the major uncials:
Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph, 01) is the treasured possession
of the British
Museum. It is a parchment copy of the Bible in Greek. Date: 4th
Codex Alexandrinus (A, 02) is also in the British
Museum. Date: 5th century.
Codex Vaticanus (B, 03) is in the
Vatican. Its text is similar to that of the Codex Sinitaicus.
Date: 4th century.
Codex Ephraemi (C, 04). A palimpsest.
Date: 5th century.
Codex Bezae (D, 05) is a bilingual MS (Greek and
Latin). It is a Western text containing longer readings,
especially in Acts. Date: 5th century.
The cursives or minuscules
A smaller flowing or cursive style of writing was used from the ninth
century. The majority of these contain the standard Byzantine
text. They are notated by the letter 'f' with a number, for
example: fl, f13, f33 (the Queen of Cursives).
4. VERSIONS OR TRANSLATIONS
Quite often translations are important as they are based on
text. By translating a version back into Greek the text can be used as
part of the process of comparing texts.
In his Diatessaron Tatian sought to harmonise the
Gospels in c.A.D.170. The Old Syriac version is represented by
the Curetonian MS and the Sinaitic MS. Rabbula's work, the
Peshitta, became the standard Syriac version in A.D. 411.
The NT world was bilingual. Latin was the language
of the State. The Old Latin version is represented by MSS from
Africa, Europe and Italy. The Latin translations became so
numerous that in A.D. 384 Pope Damascus commissioned Jerome to produce
a new standard Latin Version. He worked with the oldest Greek MSS
to hand and produced the Vulgate (common) version, which became the
standard version of the Roman church.
The Egyptian tradition is represented by the Sahidic and
Boharic versions. The Armenian version and the Georgian versions are
5. QUOTATION OF THE FATHERS
Citations from the church fathers from the first few centuries
over 36,000 and include nearly every verse in the NT. They can
relate to textual families. [3 ]
Latin fathers: Tertullian, Cyprian, Lucifer of Cagliari,
Priscillian, Augustine, Primasius
Western Greek writers: Justin,
Marcion, Irenaeus, Hippolytus
Eastern Greek writer: Eusebius Syrian
fathers: Tatian, Aphraates, Ephraem
Alexandrian fathers: Clement,
Origen, Athanasius, Cyril
Others: Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory
of Nyssa, Chrysostom.
6. LECTIONARIES AND OSTRACA
The lectionaries were readings from the Gospels and Epistles
church worship. These are notated by the letter 'l') and a number
(e.g., l59). A few scattered texts have been found inscribed on
pottery that served as note pads. 
7. CONCLUDING THOUGHT
Significantly, the Bible has not only been preserved in the
number of MSS of any book from the ancient world, but it also contains
fewer errors in transmission - and none of these affect any basic
doctrine of Christian truth. Variant readings are supplied in the
critical apparatus of Greek New Testaments. (Modern English
translations may also add critical notes.) These notes indicate honest
1. F.F.Bruce, The Books and the Parchments, revised, London,
& Inglis, 1971. Detailed works on the text of the NT include:
A.Souter, The Text and Canon of the New Testament, revised by
C.S.C.Williams, London, Duckworth, 1954; B.M.Metzger, The Canon of the
New Testament, Oxford, OUP, 1987.
2. F.F.Bruce, The Books and the
3. See: N.L.Geisler and W.E.Nix, A General
Introduction.to the Bible, p.460.
4. The Christian church followed the
Jewish church in the public systematic reading of Scripture. This
practice should be adopted universally by the church today.